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New Bio-Based Supply Chains for Medicines

Speaker: Christina Smolke, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering, Associate Chair of Education; W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar

Stanford University

Date: April 4, 2016 - 09:00 a.m. ET to 10:00 a.m. ET

Masur Auditorium

NIH VideoCast

Event Description

Recent advances in synthetic biology are transforming our capacities to make things with biology. This bio-based manufacturing technology has the potential to be most disruptive around products for which existing material supply chains result in limited access. For example, broad access to medicines and the development of new medicines has been difficult to achieve, largely due to the coupling between material supply chains and these therapeutic compounds.

We are developing a biotechnology platform that will allow us to replace current supply chains for already-approved medicines with stable, secure, scalable, distributed, and economical microbial fermentation. Our initial target is the opioids, an essential class of medicines for pain management and palliative care, which are currently sourced through opium poppy cultivation. In addition, we will leverage this technology to access novel compound structural space that will open up tremendous opportunity for transforming the discovery and development of new drugs over a longer time frame.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe at least three challenges that can be encountered in transferring plant natural product pathways to yeast.
  • Describe at least two strategies that can be used to address these challenges.
  • How might the reconstruction of complex plant pathways in yeast lead to the discovery of new medicines?


Christina D. Smolke, Ph.D., is an associate professor, associate chair of education, and W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar in the Department of Bioengineering and, by courtesy, Chemical Engineering at Stanford University.

Dr. Smolke’s research program develops foundational tools that drive transformative advances in our ability to engineer biology. For example, her group has led the development of a novel class of biological I/O devices, fundamentally changing how we interact with and program biology. Her group has also pioneered the development of microbial biosynthesis platforms for complex plant natural products, leading to disruptive technologies for sourcing and discovering medicines.

Dr. Smolke is an inventor on more than 15 patents and her research program has been honored with numerous awards, including Nature’s 10, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the World Technology Award in Biotechnology, and the MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 Award.

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